Tailgating at high school football games is all about food, family and fun, but it's also about school spirit, the game and bragging rights.
Sometimes it's about the team but if the team's not doing so well - it's about who's got the best tailgating spread. There are some, apparently, who measure school spirit at the area's bigger high schools by the amount and variety of finger food.
Some of the parents have tailgating down to an art - food, banners, tents, checklists, grills and prep areas - while others like to tailgate on the fly like a sort of spontaneous moving picnic. It is good to have children who play on the teams, but that's not a necessity.
Tailgating involves supporting your school and inviting along anyone in the neighborhood who looks bored or lonely, according to some Springfield High School tailgaters. "We like to involve everyone," said DeeDee Duffy, a Springfield High School mom. "We go to all the sporting events - it's about community involvement in your school," she added proudly.
Duffy's friends agree, but they also tailgate because she makes a mean corn salsa and puppy chow to die for.
The Moores - John, Maggie and their daughter, Ashley - are Chatham Glenwood Titans boosters. In the blink of an eye, they can have their tent, banners, collapsible tables, gas grill, chairs and food set up and ready to go.
The family has honed their tailgating set-up skills on stints for the Jaycees, St. Andrews Society and the Pirate Bar at the Chatham Sweet Corn Festival. "We all know what to set up when and where," said John Moore.
Although Ashley Moore should be acting like a blasé teenager, she admits she likes tailgating and watching the games even though she's in college now. She hauls out the Glenwood Titans banner and firmly anchors it near the tent. "She's our baker," Maggie Moore said. "People love her football cookies." No footballs are harmed in the baking of her cookies. They contain one of the essential tail-gating food groups, added John Moore, and that would be sugar. The Moores' Seven Layers of Heaven Dessert contains even more of that essential food group.
Dan Clausner, who for a time was coach of the Chatham Community Football League, is a staunch tailgater. According to him, he supplies one of the tailgate essentials - spirit. Don and Jennifer Noll met the Clausners and the Moores when their kids were in the football league. "I like the camaraderie," said Don Noll. "You can walk up and down the groups and sample the food." The Moores and their friends have been tailgating for more than four years.
High school tailgating, as pointed out by the Titan and Springfield Senator supporters, requires more organization than pro tailgating because of setting up and tearing down before the game starts. Ribs and steak, part of another of the essential tailgate food groups - meat - may take too much time for high school tailgating.
The Nolls - actually Don Noll, knowingly waving a pair of grilling tongs for emphasis - said brats and hot dogs are the way to go.
Matt Gill, a Springfield High dad, suggests a checklist and lots of phone calls. Their group has been tailgating for about a year, but they honed their skills tailgating at University of Illinois games.
Although it may seem elementary, if everyone in the tailgating group shows up with buns and not some of the other essential tailgate food groups, the fans go hungry.
"If you don't have one person that brings everything, you do a lot of talking on the phone so everyone brings something. Spread out the responsibilities. Stick to the basics; you don't want to be spending all of your tailgating time cooking," Gill lectured. He's a fan of hamburgers and he's quick to add don't skimp on the buns. "Tailgating involves walking around; you don't want your bun collaps ing," he adds with authority.
Gill suggested reading "The Tailgater's Handbook" by Joe Drozda for some good tailgating advice.
Gill tailgates with Nancy and Mark Pence, the Duffys, Kathy and Ron Stuva and the Vasconcelleses - and anyone anybody else cares to bring.
"Tailgating is about family and community. We work, and it's a good time to get the kids together with other families and all cheer for the same thing," said DeeDee Duffy. According to Kathy Stuva, you don't even have to have a child playing in the sport.
"Our tailgates are more like family. The kids spread out and play their own games of football or whatever," Stuva said. Duffy likens it to teaching life lessons. "You promote the whole thing, school spirit, involvement, community, sportsmanship and as a bonus, you get to have fun!"
It's also about food, added Nancy Pence. "We are all about the food. Food and cheering. Everybody is busy, but parents have time for the game and to boost spirit if they can also feed their kids." Many of Nancy Pence's friends tailgate so they can eat her poppy-seed dressing salad. She has photocopies available at their tail-gating site.
Lanphier, Springfield and Glenwood high schools may have great tailgaters - but to take tail-gate prowess to the "nth" power, open up the math book and there's Sacred Heart-Griffin.
The 2008 season is the passing of the torch, or in this case, the barbeque tongs for their tail-gating association. Yes, honestly, an association, with a grid sign-up sheet for what people are bringing and woe unto those who mess up and don't bring their stuff.
They've tailgated for years and years - many think they may have tailgated before there were even tailgates. SHG alumni could possibly have tailgated with the Pilgrims - somewhere in SHG tailgate lore there is likely a picture of Romans tailgating with a yellow SHG logo emblazoned on their breastplates.
Al Mast pulls his truck up with the giant grill behind it, and SHG mothers begin feverishly putting up their tailgating accoutrements - signs, placards with snappy slogans, pennants, a referee piñata, face paint and so much yellow and black that an eerie sort of yellow glow surrounds them.
Mast passes the grilling responsibilities along to Greg Williamson this year. Sucking grill smoke during a tailgating dry run, Williamson said he's doing it because his wife, Michelle, is making him. After she menaces him with a hotdog bun, he gets serious and says it's for the kids and he actually worked his way up to grillmeister.
"It's a chance to get together, hang out and catch up on everything," said Michelle Williamson.
And most of the SHG tailgaters figure that since their kids are going to go to SHG, their kids have gone to SHG or their unborn children will likely go to SHG, they might as well eat before cheering.
Mast is passing on the bulk of the grilling duties because his son is going to college, the same reason Rich Higdon has passed on the tailgate association duties. Higdon's son is also in college. It's like the circle of life. Tailgaters cut their teeth on college tailgating, do it at the high schools and then all move back to college with their children again.
Al Nast's advice is bring plenty of food - you don't want to run out. If there is extra tailgating food, SHGers take it back to the school and feed the football players.
Al Nast's favorite tailgating moment was when they set up a tent and had Susan and John Klemm celebrate their anniversary at the game. They made steak for the Klemms, bedecked the table in fine china and silverware and hired an Elvis impersonator. The Klemms were the envy of the tailgate crowd - not for Elvis, but because Mast grills up a steak that will make the average person swoon.
Intelligence gathering at the dry-run tail-gate also reveals that Mary McCann's chili is a crowd pleaser and hopefully she will make more this year.
Craig Kararo's advice is to marinate the meat so it cooks more quickly - boneless butterfly pork chops or pork medallions are good - and don't skimp on the bun.
"Nothing is worse than your meat falling through a soggy bun," he said sagely.
Although it may be hard to take Sharon Nast seriously since she's wearing a large Batman emblem ring and a tool belt with an air horn attached, she's one serious lady when it comes to tailgating.
"You must have a theme that involves the other school," she said, "but nothing nasty," she added quickly. She is a member of the Milk Jug Mamas, a group of ladies with snappy stuff written on milk jugs with rocks inside that they shake for the team.
Go team, and pass the buns.
Story published Friday, September 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 5 )